With Ant-Man and the Wasp, the MCU hits 20 films, with no real signs of slowing down.
I have at least one friend who thinks this a terrible, with superhero films being a dark blight on the landscape. And we’ve also read interviews with Hollywood bigwigs about “superhero fatigue”, as if the popularity of the genre were crushing all creativity out of movies. This is an overreaction, of course–it seems asilly to not recognize that the whole idea of “summer blockbusters” and “tentpole franchises” have been threatening the same thing for decades. But somehow, cinema survives.
For me, I like superheroes, of course, and as long as a company like Marvel can continue to produce palatable material, then I say it’s fine, go for your life. And Ant-Man and the Wasp is at least palatable, if not a fully enjoyable summer snack.
It wisely manages to avoid the heaviness of the previous installment, Avengers: Infinity War (while still acknowledging it in post-credit) and instead focuses on comedy, romance, and light-hearted heroics, getting by mainly on the charm of its leads. This is consistent with its predecessor, 2015’s Ant-Man, which was also directed by Peyton Reed.
The story is about Scott Lang, who is coming to the end of a period of house arrest (thanks to the events of Captain America: Civil War) but finds his future threatened when his former flame Hope van Dyne needs his help to save her mother Janet, who decades ago was the superhero known as the Wasp, and who might be lost in the “quantum realm”. If that’s confusing, it means she basically got so small she couldn’t come back. There’s critical information inside Scott’s head leftover from his own visit to this dimension in the first film, and there’s a window to use that information to rescue Janet that is closing soon. Unfortunately, Hope and her dad Hank have run afoul of criminals and government agents and Scott’s semi-incompetent business partners and a super-powered criminal who can walk through stuff, so nothing goes smoothly. And along the way of Scott, Hope and Hank overcoming these obstacles, we get lots of cool action and inventive size-changing theatrics, making the whole thing a fun ride.
As the title suggests, Hope–the new Wasp–is not a supporting character this time around, but a fairly equal co-star. Indeed, she was just about an equal co-star in the first film, but this time she has a costume, super-powers, and a whole lot of punching and kicking to do, and she’s pretty awesome at it. Marvel Studios’ strength has always been showcasing its super-heroes in a great light, and in many ways Hope even outshines Ant-Man, as Scott has always been a bit of a goofball. Ultimately, both characters come across well, and Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly are charming and watchable, both as individuals and as a couple.
There’s a running thread going on in Ant-Man and the Wasp which has to do with the love between parents and children. Hope is desperate through the entire film to rescue her lost mother. Scott is motivated to not the violate the terms of his house arrest agreement so he can have a relationship with his daughter Cassie. The movie’s main villain, the Ghost, is in the trouble that she’s in because she refused to leave her father behind in the midst of danger. And another character is driven to dubious actions because he sees the Ghost as something of a surrogate daughter. It’s all a little clunky, but at the same time it’s interesting because we don’t usually get this sort of thematic cohesion from these films.
Ant-Man and the Wasp’s story threatens to get a bit crowded. The main antagonist is the Ghost, a woman who goes in and out of physical phase with reality, and it’s always appreciated when these films provide a physical threat that allows for something a bit different than we’ve seen before. But there are so many other details going on in the film that even though the Ghost has got a potentially engaging backstory and motivation, she’s never really developed into a fully rounded character. Rather, she’s just one of a whole bunch of complications and obstacles in the movie’s narrative, present mainly because this is a superhero film and we expect our heroes to have to fight someone with super-powers.
There’s something of a derivative feeling to Ant-Man and the Wasp, as there is with many sequels. There is familiar action, familiar humor, a familiar set pieces. Giant ants do funny things, big things are made little, cute little things become big, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) is surly, Luis (Michael Peña) babbles on like a lunatic and is funny, etc. But it’s all mixed together in a way that is pleasant and diverting.
And there are new elements as well, including the villains already mentioned, and Michelle Pfeiffer joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Janet van Dyne, the original Wasp. We can only hope that future outings will allow for a scene in which she and Michael Dougas’ Adrian Toomes (Spider-Man Homecoming) can dance together and suddenly realize each other’s secret identities.